Omi

This year you were nominated for three ACAs including one for best new artist. How does it feel to get recognition for your singing?

It was crazy. When I was presenting I kept looking at all of the people in the audience and it was like Carrie Underwood, Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney; all of the people I’ve looked up to since I was a little kid. Even when I was walking on stage in my head I was like, “I can’t believe I’m walking out with Jake Owen!” It was definitely a very weird, surreal kind of thing. The transition has been really cool though because country fans are the best fans ever, they’re amazingly diehard.

Do you remember hearing yourself on the radio for the first time?

I do remember! I was actually sick and in the car driving to Kroger to get Afrin and all of a sudden I saw my name on the radio. I was like, “Is that me!?” I immediately started crying. I think the thing I’m most excited for is hearing my new single “Whiskey” for the first time. People keep saying they’ve been hearing it but I haven’t yet. I think that’s gonna be the one that really gets me.

What initially drew you to your new single “Whiskey”?

I’m always drinking whiskey in the studio because it keeps my voice nice and warm and it coats my throat so I’ll put honey in it and make it like a little hot toddy. Plus in country radio you talk about alcohol a lot and of course broken relationships so when I heard the song “Whiskey” I thought, “How cool is it to be able to talk about both at the same time?’ I just thought it was awesome.

Is whiskey always your drink of choice?

Wine is my favorite but whiskey is definitely my second favorite. I’m a red wine person, I love anything bold or spicy like a cabernet or malbec.

You lived in L.A. for six years before moving to Nashville. Which feels more like home?

Definitely Nashville. I just love the people in Nashville. When I was living in L.A. I never really felt like I fit in in. I never wear heels to the pool, you know what I mean? It’s the little things like that. In Nashville people are just so nice and down to earth. It’s not as rushed, there’s no one following you around. I was in Trader Joe’s last month making a salad and I look up and there’s Nicole Kidman! There were no paparazzi, nothing.

After years as an actress on “Friday Night Lights” and “One Tree Hill” was it scary to make the leap into music?

I think I’m scared on a daily basis. The band has picked me up more times than not when I’m like, “I can’t do this anymore! This is so hard,” because it’s so hard to believe in yourself. You’re thinking, “Is this really gonna work? Is this really gonna happen?” Tonight is going to be a really fun show [at Joe’s Bar] and I’m really excited but then I think, “What if this radio single doesn’t work? Should I just give up and do something else?” It’s a daily struggle but you just have to keep believing in yourself.

Looking back on your journey, what’s the number one lesson you’ve learned along the way?

Don’t rush down the aisle too soon! That’s as honest I can get on that one. Just make sure you find the right one. That’s definitely a regret of mine.

You’re now dating country singer Brantley Gilbert. How did you two meet?

We met backstage at the ACAs. I say he looked at me first, he says I looked at him first. I have a great boyfriend and he’s actually here with me now, he’s the best. It’s all about finding the person who can understand what you do. They don’t have to be in the same business but I think it helps in some ways because they understand everything you’re going through.

Where did he take you for your first date?

He took me to a restaurant called The Stock-Yard in Nashville. They have amazing steak and fish and he had rented out a room so it was just us. It was very private and very sweet.

Last song you heard that you wish you could have recorded?

“The House That Built Me” by Miranda Lambert. I love that song! I wish I would have written that song.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?

The last hour before a show I’m getting ready, doing my hair and makeup and all of that stuff. Usually I’ll hang with the band if they’re still out here and sometimes have a glass of wine and just relax. Once you go out there it gets kinda crazy but then afterwards we’ll talk about the show and laugh at all of the mistakes because there’s never a perfect show, something always goes wrong.

How do you kill time on the bus when you’re on the road?

I have really bad shows that I watch. I feel like because we’re working so hard and everything’s kind of dramatic I like to go home and watch the most mindless reality shows ever like “Keeping Up With the Kardashians”, “The Real Housewives”, “Biggest Loser” and “X Factor”.

If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?

Either Johnny Cash, Oprah Winfrey or Jesus! If I could have a beer with Jesus…

PHOTOGRAPHY BY NEAL AGUSTIN

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Omi